09 Jun 2012
L’olimpiade, Venice Baroque Orchestra
Over 60 composers (including Beethoven) wrote music inspired by Metastasio’s L’olimpiade.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Over 60 composers (including Beethoven) wrote music inspired by Metastasio’s L’olimpiade.
The Venice Baroque Orchestra brought to London their pasticcio, selecting 16 settings, organized around the original play.
Metastasio’s libretto, L’Olympiade was a popular choice for composers in the 18th century with settings by composers such as Caldara, Hasse, Vivaldi, Galuppi, Cimarosa, Paisiello and Cherubini. Donizetti even started a setting of it. The plot is the usual mix of co-incidences, mistaken identities and love thwarted. In fact the plot summary could be read as much as “Carry on up the Olympics” as an opera seria.
Whilst Vivaldi’s setting has received recent revivals, the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon decided to explore the full gamut of settings of the libretto. At their concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 28 May they present a pasticcio made up of music from 16 composers. Pasticcios were common in the 18th century, with music taken from a variety of composers. The Venice Baroque Orchestra chose to present Metastasio’s libretto as he first produced it, ignoring the many changes that subsequent composers made. It was common to replace aria text and even to trim the recitative, so that for instance Vivaldi’s version of the opera makes significant changes to the aria texts.
The Venice Baroque Orchestra presented all of Metastasio’s arias but omitted all of the recitative. In the 18th century, a pasticcio would have recitative by a particular composer to bind the arias together. At the Queen Elizabeth Hall we had just the arias, linked by written plot summary.
We opened with Leonardo Leo’s sinfonia for his setting premiered in Naples in 1737, a short, no nonsense piece which displayed the orchestra’s wonderfully crisp, up-front playing. From then on we skittered through the next 50 years. Without the recitative it was difficult for the soloists to give a coherent sense of character given the variety of settings. For example Romina Basso as Megacle sang arias by Hasse (1756), Gassmann (1764), Cherubini (1783) and Jommelli (1761). It was difficult to grasp the feel of the complete operas, particularly as the styles of the settings varied from Caldara’s baroque setting, through galant and classical all the way to Cherubini.
This is where the logic behind the performance also fell down. In the 18th century a pasticcio would have had recitative and arias selected from a small group of contemporary composers, probably linked by style. Here we had no recitative and composers of a bewildering variety of styles. So it was as a concert, rather than an opera, that we have to think of this.
Basso as Megacle (one of the two male characters played by female singers), had a fine mezzo-soprano voice. Her opening aria, by Hasse, provided her with some suitably brilliant music which she executed quite superbly. However Basso had a rather odd performance style, rarely looking at the audience and waving her arms in the air in a strange manner. The result rather led to a strong lack of audience engagement, but her brilliant technical performance compensated to a certain extent.
The other male character, Licida, was played by mezzo soprano Delphine Galou. She opened with an aria by Galuppi from 1748, rather more early classical in style. Galou had a stylish delivery and an attractively dark, veiled voice. She went on to sing an aria by Vivaldi and a further one by Galuppi.
The two heroines were sopranos Ruth Rosique and Luanda Siqueira as Aristea and Argene. Rosique opened with an aria from 1786 by Paisiello in a lovely, expressive performance, following this with music by Gassman, Caldara (the libretto’s original setting), Leo and Piccini. Siqueira started with an aria by Sarti from 1778 in galant style, then covering music by Perez (written for Lisbon in 1753), Traetta and Pergolesi.
Tenor Jeremy Ovenden as Clistene had a series of high tenor arias, from Josef Myslivecek (a friend of Mozart’s), Jommelli and Cimarosa. Ovenden had a fine technique, a nice vibrant tenor with a free and easy top, he displayed little effort when it came to the tessitura of the arias.
Counter tenor Nicholas Spanos had a smaller role and displayed a rather careful technique in arias by Hasse.
One of the interesting things about the concert was the contrast between the various styles of the arias. We had galant music by Sarti, baroque music by Caldara and Vivaldi, late baroque style music by Traetta, music of an early classical feel by Jomelli, classical elegance from Piccini and of course a fully developed dramatic scene from Cherubini. Missing from the list, unfortunately, were Sacchini and Donizetti; it would certainly have been interesting to see what Donizetti made of it.
Hasse came out top with five items in the concert, showing how he was brilliant at writing elaborate arias which displayed voices at their best. The most intriguing was perhaps Traetta whose Act 2 arias for Siqueiria left me wondering what the remainder of his opera would be like. Another fascinating point was the way that composers from the classical period continued to write Da Capo arias.
In the programme book, Reinhard Strohm talked about the perfection of Metastasio’s work. A perfection that modern listeners often find it difficult to detect judging by the reviews of recent performances of Vivaldi’s L’Olympiade where reviewers have had difficulty taking the plot seriously. This is one of the problems with this genre, we have not yet learned to listen to settings of Metastasio’s texts. Contemporary ears have trouble finding balance and perfection and see only contrived co-incidences. Hasse in particular was strongly associated with Hasse, and most of the composers included in the evening would have regarded his libretto as a serious object worthy of setting.
The performances from the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Marcon were simply stunning. The orchestra had a fine technique, with a bravura feel to it which just asked to be listened to.
As drama, the performance was lacking. The programme probably works better as a CD than as a concert performance of an opera. But Marcon and his cast gave us a string of extremely fine performance which just made one sit up and listen.